Home asia South Korea working to unfreeze Teheran’s funds in US-Iran detainee deal

South Korea working to unfreeze Teheran’s funds in US-Iran detainee deal

South Korea working to unfreeze Teheran’s funds in US-Iran detainee deal

SEOUL – South Korea said on Monday it is working with all parties involved in unfreezing Iranian funds worth US$6 billion (S$8.18 billion) which, once released, will trigger a carefully choreographed deal between arch foes the US and Iran to swop detainees.

Once the funds are transferred to Qatar, which mediated the deal during months of talks, five US dual nationals who were imprisoned in Iran are expected to leave Teheran for Doha from where they will travel to the US, sources previously told Reuters.

In return, five Iranians detained in the US will be released, so they can travel to Iran. Iranian officials and Iran’s state news agency have said one of those detainees is expected to remain in the US.

The precise timing of the fund transfer has yet to be publicly announced.

The deal, first made public on Aug 10, will remove a major irritant between Washington and Teheran, although the two sides remain deeply at odds over issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its influence around the region to US sanctions and America’s military presence in the Gulf.

“Our government has been consulting closely with involved countries including the United States and Iran to tackle the frozen fund issue, and is currently making efforts to ensure smooth progress of all procedures so that it will be resolved once and for all,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The US dual citizens to be released include Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Sharqi, 59, both businessmen, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist who also holds British nationality. They were released from prison and put under house arrest last month.

A fourth US citizen was also released into house arrest, while a fifth was already under house arrest. Their identities have not been disclosed.

Iranian officials named the five Iranians to be released by the US as Mehrdad Moin-Ansari, Kambiz Attar-Kashani, Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, Amin Hassanzadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi. Two Iranian officials said Afrasiabi would remain in the US.

As a first step in the deal, Washington waived sanctions to allow the transfer of US$6 billion in Iranian funds from South Korea to Qatar. The funds had been blocked in South Korea, normally one of Iran’s largest oil customers, because of US sanctions.

Under the agreement, Doha agreed to monitor how Iran spends the funds to ensure it goes on non-sanctioned humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine.

The transfer of Iran’s funds has drawn criticism from US Republicans who say President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is in effect paying a ransom for US citizens. The White House has defended the deal.

Ties between Washington and Teheran have been boiling since Donald Trump, a Republican, pulled the US out of a nuclear deal between Iran and global powers when he was president in 2018. Reaching another nuclear deal has gained little traction since then, as Mr Biden prepares for the 2024 US election.

Doha hosted at least eight rounds of talks involving Iranian and US negotiators who sat in separate hotels and spoke via Qatari mediators, sources previously told Reuters.

Earlier sessions focused mainly on the thorny nuclear issue, and later ones on the prisoner releases. REUTERS

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